Catastrophic Tornadoes Devastate America’s Heartland – Can Climate Tech Protect Us?

On Friday, December 11th, atmospheric conditions resulted in a catastrophic tornado outbreak that wreaked havoc across America’s Heartland.

Our hearts at BreezoMeter go out to all those impacted by these terrible events. On Sunday, I appeared on Fox Weather to try and make some sense of this disaster’s devastating impact, and explain how climate and weather forecasting could potentially protect and prepare us for such scenarios in the future.

How Extreme Weather Events Like Tornadoes Impact The Economy

Unfortunately, America’s Heartland is no stranger to devastating tornadoes, which often result in the destruction of property and tragic loss of lives.

The economic impact of such natural disasters manifests as both local devastation in the short term and rebuilding efforts in the long term. Local businesses often take the brunt of it, but national and infrastructural brands like FedEx have already announced their struggle to meet delivery schedules.

For this recent devastation, we’re likely looking at billions in economic damage, probably culminating in record-breaking damage costs. Sad to say, this wasn’t the only tornado of such devastating proportions in the last ten years. The 2011 Joplin tornado resulted in around $2.8 billion in economic damage, while the 2013 Moore tornado caused an estimated $2 billion in damage as well.

Dr. Louis Uccellini, Director of the National Weather Service, discusses the breadth of the impact on communities and the forecasting challenges in this interview:

Weather Forecasting Technologies Help Keep Us Safe

Forecast accuracy probably plays the most important role when it comes to preparing for such devastating tornadoes and other natural disasters. Thankfully, progress in AI and Big Data technologies enable significant advancement in weather prediction tools that help protect people, infrastructure, and property from these catastrophic weather and climate events.

As part of America’s response to the growing global climate crisis, a new infrastructure bill is investing in advancing weather and climate observation and forecasting with a $368.2 million increase to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s budget. 

These new funds will enable NOAA to expand its climate and weather observations methods and deliver vital information in physical, biological, social, and economic aspects. 

These improvements will help us understand and prepare people, property, and infrastructure for future weather and climate conditions while facilitating job creation in frontline efforts and underserved communities that find themselves precariously vulnerable to climate change.

The Future: Climate Tech-led Preparedness and Resilience?

Improvements to weather and climate forecasting technologies, built on the back of government investments and infrastructure, will protect and prepare us all to better withstand such tragic weather catastrophes in the coming years.

I’ll share a personal example of how improvements in technology are already directly helping people stay safe: In the early 90s, I was the Air Force Chief Meteorologist at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. While there, I served as part of the team that installed the NEXRAD radar as part of a National Weather Service initiative that is still powering the data used by FOX Weather and others in the areas impacted by today’s storms. I like to think this technology helped save countless lives in the area and continues to do so every year.

Here at BreezoMeter, all of us understand the undeniable value of environmental data in preventing loss of life and economic damage from extreme weather and climate events, as well as protecting people from a wide range of environmental hazards on an ongoing basis.

Once again, our hearts go out to all those affected by this devastating tornado outbreak, and we strive to further develop our environmental intelligence technology to assist as many people and organizations as possible in the near future.

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Paul Walsh

Previously at IBM and The Weather Company, I have decades of experience in helping large consumer businesses re-imagine how they systemically leverage weather and climate data in both supply and demand chain systems -- creating integrated enterprise processes that are more responsive and more resilient in the face of increasingly impactful weather conditions. My observations have been featured in the US on The Weather Channel and CNBC, & I've been quoted in The Wall Street Journal, Barron’s, and The New York Times. Connect with me!